The Great Sophists in Periclean Athens

The Great Sophists in Periclean Athens

Jacqueline de Romilly

Language: English

Pages: 280

ISBN: 019823807X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The arrival of the Sophists in Athens in the middle of the fifth century B.C. was a major intellectual event, for they brought with them a new method of teaching founded on rhetoric and bold doctrines which broke away from tradition. In this book de Romilly investigates the reasons for the initial success of the Sophists and the reaction against them, in the context of the culture and civilization of classical Athens.


















f r o m outside, despite m y longing to h e a r Prodicus; for I regard the m a n as all-wise a n d divine; but o w i n g to the depth of his voice the room w a s filled with a b o o m i n g sound which m a d e talk indistinct. The house is already full and becoming fuller. All the gilded youth of Athens has thronged to hear the masters. As Socrates and his young friend arrive, the handsome Alcibiades and Critias appear, two men with important roles to play in the history of Athens. The picture

subversive and amoral nature, doctrines which we shall try to elucidate in due course. It is, at any rate, only fair to recognize that Thrasymachus' analyses by no means exclude such a possibility. His impatient onslaught in The Republic was as sharp a blow against the old morality as was ever delivered in the context of an ethical discussion. However, it reflects the critical rigour of a Sophist's daring mind more than it represents a statement of personal, practical commitment. That is why, so

THE DANGERS OF T H E TABUI.A RASA it, as is shown by the fact that even Athens' adversaries sometimes accept it. A Syracusan thus admits: That t h e Athenians e n t e r t a i n these designs of a g g r a n d i s e m e n t is q u i t e p a r d o n a b l e ; a n d I have no word of b l a m e for those w h o wish to rule, b u t only for those w h o a r e too ready to s u b m i t ; for it is an instinct of m a n ' s n a t u r e to rule those w h o yield, but to g u a r d against those w h o a r

importance that had come to be attached to the Sophists' critique and the new spirit that they had promoted. But that in itself poses a considerable problem. The arguments presented above are drawn indiscriminately from both those who opposed the Sophists (such as Socrates) and those who numbered among their ranks (it was, after all, Protagoras who had set the ball rolling). The question that thus arises is: who exactly was it who was attacking justice? And who was defending it? Perhaps the fact

philosophers had brought with them, and of the revolution that they had introduced in people's minds. They had brought both good things and bad, marvellous knowledge but undeniable moral risks—and all of it was new. But once that point is made, two questions immediately 11 T H E R I S E AND S U C C E S S OF T H E SOPHISTS arise. You cannot help wondering where the new ideas originated and how it was that different individual minds, from separate far-flung Greek cities, all entered upon

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